To my mind, the most dangerous of those ideas is the idea that democracy means that everybody is entitled to one’s own ignorance, even worse, that, to paraphrase Asimov, one’s ignorance is as good as one’s knowledge.
If you have any doubt about the above quote by Asimov pick up the following recent books on this issue: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1964) by Richard Hofstadter; The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby; The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein; Idiot America by Charles Pierce; American Idyll: Academic Anti-Elitism as Cultural Critique by Catherine Liu. They may convince you that the problem is real indeed. If they do not convince you, you may have grounds to suspect that you have been affected by the general dumbing-down and may indeed be in chain in Plato’s cave of ignorance and mere appearances and don’t even know it.
The apotheosis of this strange anti-intellectualism which denies even the empirical evidence of science, which Asimov believes has always been integral part of American culture, arrived lately with the bizarre phenomenon of Donald Trump, who in many ways has become an icon for the millions of people who follow him as a savior of sorts and consider anti-intellectualism a sign of liberty and free speech. The question arises: How did we descend this low? The short answer is this: by the dumbing-down of the general population. Trump is nothing less than the proverbial canary in the coal mine: a sign that the oxygen of liberty and democracy is diminishing precipitously, and not only in America, but globally, especially in the West which has always been proud of democracy’s invention together with the concept of freedom. Alas, rabid nationalism and even fascism are returning with a vengeance. We seem to be back to square one in the early 30s, brown or black shirts strutting about parading their patriotism. One begins to wonder if World War II was an exercise in futility after all.
But let us explore in some detail what is the essence of this dumbing-down. Let us begin by examining the ecological catastrophe we are currently experiencing well into the 21st century. Time is running out despite the recent Paris Conference on Climate Chance which may mitigate somehow the impending catastrophe but we are hardly out of the woods yet; that will only happen if urgent action follows the empty rhetoric. As it is, the totality of destructive damage that transnational corporations have perpetrated against all forms of planetary life has destroyed the eco-systems of thousands upon thousands of animal and plant species. Of the five times that life on earth has become massively extinct in the past, we humans are rapidly causing the sixth great cycle of mass extinction and the first and fastest due to manmade effects in the form of rising global air and water temperatures and over-polluted water, air and soil. The dead zones across the planet are spreading faster rates of extinction amongst plant and animal life than at any prior time in the earth's known history.
I checked those facts with my elder daughter who is finishing up a master in ecology and the environmental science, and she assures me that such is indeed the case. The facts are there for anybody to digest if one believes in truth. Destruction of our living habitat and eco-system carries perhaps the most damning, ultimate dumbing-down effect that the oligarchs of our brave capitalistic world of the ilk of Donald Trump and company, have caused. But then they no doubt have laid out their own contingency plan utilizing a hidden technology that can save them when the lights go out on mother earth for the rest of us lowly expendables.
Indeed, the powers that-be in the United States have been systematically dumbing-down Americans as a society for a very long time - all by calculated design. Originally the term dumbing-down was used as a slang expression in 1933 by film screenwriters to mean "revising [the script] so as to appeal to those of lower education or intelligence." It actually began as a concept with the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller who declared that we don’t need a nation of thinkers but a nation of workers, that is to say, we need automatons who enrich the elite class and don’t do much thinking for themselves, or anybody else.
The most obvious example of how Americans have been dumbed-down is through this nation's failed public education system. At one time not that long ago America reigned supreme as a leading model for the rest of the world providing the best quality free public K-12 education system on the planet. But over the last many decades while much of the rest of the world has been passing us by, it seems an insidious federal agenda has been implemented to condition and brainwash a population of mindless, robotic citizenry that simply does what it's told, and of course the brainwashing commences early.
As a pawn to the military industrial complex, the US government has chosen permanent war over its own people. One can count a minimum of six major wars in the 20th century, not to mention the minor covert ones all over the globe. This misguided decision to opt for power rather than knowledge and wisdom, has decimated the middle class and created a college educated indentured class struggling in heavy debt to find any means to stay afloat. With an outsourced, now vanished manufacturing base, upward mobility and the American dream have become tragic casualties of modern life.
After centuries of carefully orchestrated design, oligarchs of the banking cabal have finally gotten what they've been plotting and scheming, globally enforced austerity and impoverishment reducing life in America and around the world to near Third World status, and absolute control. The oligarchs are counting on a dumbed-down population too busy addicted to their video games or watching sports or Kim Kardashian's latest wardrobe malfunction to even notice that a longtime oligarch eugenics plan is already well underway. The fact that a Donald Trump is in the lead for his party’s nomination as the next president of the US speaks volumes by itself.
But this dismal outcome has long been in the making on many fronts. Over numerous decades a grand experiment engaging in social engineering with America's youth has been steadily working to homogenize a lowest common denominator product of sub par mediocrity, creating generations of young Americans who can neither read nor write, nor think for themselves in any critical manner. According to a study last year by the US Department of Education, 19% of US high school graduates cannot read, 21% of adults read below 5thgrade level and that these alarming rates have not changed in the last ten years. Has anybody noticed that the debates or the Republican party are now conducted with language at the fifth grade level, complete with bullying and clownish body language and vituperations? They are not for enlightenment but for amusement and distraction. They resemble more a circus than a deliberative dialogue.
The international test results from the 2012 PISA indicate American students are lagging behind virtually all developed nations even more than in the past. China topped all 65 nations while US teenagers again scored at or below average in math, reading and science. That is because the current educational system is no longer about learning the basic A-B-C's but simply cranking out a subclass of work force laborers. Some concerned educators have dubbed the current education system as "limited learning for lifelong labor." That is to say, education has become training for a job and acquisition of practical skills, and consequently it is no longer education educating holistically the whole man.
But this planned system of a New World Order (NOW) featuring a planned global economy and a planned global education system has been promoted for well over a century now. The Carnegie Foundation outlined its explicit roadmap for absolute oligarch control way back in the 1930's. Department of Education whistleblower Charlotte Iserbyt exposed the conspired downfall of America's educational system in her well documented chronicle The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America. She demonstrates that even national sovereignty gets subordinated to world authority.
The heavy focus of public education today is primarily limited to standardized test performance and the proliferation of privatized charter schools complete with private contractors teaching the tests, usurping the authority at all levels from state, to local communities, to individual teacher's lesson plans, to home schooling parents, largely replaced by instructional software programs.
This lopsided war between fascist run propaganda schools brainwashing a Brave New World youth and the local school boards, teachers and parents battling for their lives to maintain what little choice they still have left with their children is yet another pathetic cautionary tale of what the oligarch agenda is doing to destroy America today.
Instead of encouraging the gifted by teaching to their strengths, too often they are responded to punitively by either overly frustrated and/or rigid, authoritarian adults bent on maintaining some semblance of control. The one size fits all cookie cutter system stifles learning, cognitive and intellectual development and creativity, rewarding those who acquiesce and simply do what they are told as good little boys and girls on their way to being good little employees and citizens who are so easily manipulated, controlled and subdued. They become the lifeless, walking dead who merely go through the daily motions on autopilot, too beaten down, numb and/or fearful.
A substantive quality education should teach the curious developing mind to be critical and discriminating, willing to ask questions, challenging the status quo of preconceived suppositions and accepted dogma. With an educational system that purposely misinforms and indoctrinates young people to respond as Skinnerian rats to a positive reinforcement schedule of operant conditioning, children as future adults are being shaped and programmed to become little robots easily controlled by their oligarch masters.
Another primary means of dumbing down America is through mass media. If the public is busily preoccupied with the superficial garbage spoon-fed to the masses every single day via television, movies, music, internet, video games that all act just as effective as the most potent drug dulling the senses and the brain, again an enormous control over the population is achieved and maintained. Here again Donald Trump is the perfect icon: politics reduced to entertainment. When asked where he derived his knowledge of the facts from, Trump answered “the TV shows.”With so much entertainment as the modern day opiate to the masses to divert people's attention, these weapons of mass distraction easily render people oblivious to see what is really happening in the world. We are all being numbed and dumbed.
This too is another form of calculated brainwashing, mind control as well as behavior control that the media as vehicles of propaganda and disinformation constantly utilize. The constant 24/7 sensory bombardment that media puts on humans is one highly effective means of control over both culture and population.
Currently an incredible near 70% of all Americans are taking at least one prescription drug. Between the multibillion dollar alcohol and tobacco industries and the multibillion dollar Big Pharma industry, these corporate entities wield colossal amounts of power in America, buying off politicians, spending billions on advertising, often times killing people whose addiction overpowers them.
Rampant drug addiction in US society becomes yet another very effective means of control over millions of humans who struggle daily with their very real demons. The number of deaths related to drug overdose has jumped 540% since 1980. And whatever collateral damage results from those who die as well as those who engage in criminal activity to support their habit, with both a privatized prison industrial complex and privatized medical system, again the only profiteers feeding off the misfortunes of the afflicted are that same power elite.
The same damage and dumbing down-effects are only added on when considering the detrimental and often lethal effects that chemically processed foods, chemical and hormone injected meat products, genetically altered organisms (GMO's) and pesticide-ridden foods, not to speak of fluoride treated water, that virtually the entire American population consumes on a daily basis. The masses are poisoning themselves to death with built up toxins in their bodies.
In conclusion, after this brief excursus into the byways of mass-dumbing-down, perhaps we can agree that what is most disturbing about Donald Trump is not who he is, for one cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but the obvious evidence, that the ones who think like him and follow him devotedly are legions. That spells disaster even for a democratic society with constitutional checks and balances. Will the canary in the cave of ignorance save us? That would be a silver-lining to be greatly hoped for, but there are no guarantees and democracy may indeed perish in the cave of ignorance together with the witless canary. Time will tell.
Author’s Note: this article has previously appeared on December 19, 2015 in Ovi Magazine